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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial operations are a big and growing problem that has historically seen little attention. Electricity use, heat needs (varying from 50–1,600°C [122–2,912°F]), and chemical process carbon dioxide (CO2) (e.g., from cement, lime, hydrogen, and other chemical production) create the largest amount of such emissions, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Global industrial greenhouse gas sources by sector, 2019
Until the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, industrial GHG mitigation was focused on energy efficiency, coal-to-gas or electricity fuel switching, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Mitigation generally stopped at the reduction of GHG emissions by roughly 50 percent by 2050. The Paris Agreement changed everything: its emphasis on keeping the global temperature increase “well below 2°C and toward 1.5°C” shifted the global CO2 and GHG targets to net zero by 2050 and 2070, respectively. In a world meeting the Paris targets, any industrial facility still emitting CO2 in 2050 will likely have to pay for additive, permanent, and verifiable atmospheric carbon dioxide removal (CDR) offsets at the prevailing price. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has shown industrial deep decarbonization is possible but would require a set of interlocking strategies, described in Figure 2 and expanded below.
Figure 2: Strategies for decarbonizing industry
Carbon capture and utilization and permanent geological storage, hydrogen made from methane and CCS (“blue”) or electrolysis (“green”), electrification, and waste heat cascading and reuse with heat pumps will all be easier to supply economically if facilities are located closer together. Such proximity could possibly occur in preplanned and approved net-zero industrial clusters, such as at seaports with existing refineries and their hydrogen needs.
If accomplished, decarbonization of industry will lead to several benefits beyond slower climate change. Along with electrifying personal transport and buildings, industrial decarbonization will help dramatically improve air quality, reducing some of the 5.9–7.5 million early deaths globally each year due to poor local air quality.
Policy makers seeking pathways toward industrial decarbonization could consider the following options:
 R. Fuller et al., “Pollution and health: a progress update,” The Lancet Planetary Health 6, no. 6 (June 2022): E535–E547, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(22)00090-0/fulltext; IEA, Energy and Air Pollution: World Energy Outlook Special Report, June 2016, https://www.iea.org/reports/energy-and-air-pollution.
There is a strong and growing consensus that a simultaneously growing and decarbonizing electricity sector is necessary to meet declining greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial operations poses a significant challenge due to heat needs ranging from 50–1,600°C (122–2,912°F) as well as process-based emissions.
In September 2020, China announced its intentions to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
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